The Soviet Influence: Battleship Potemkin / Drifters DVD+Blu-ray
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Directed by John Grierson, Sergei M. Eisenstein
Produced in 1929
Main Language - Silent with English subtitles
Michael Brooke acclaims this latest entry in the BFI's 'Soviet Influence' series, which pairs films from Sergei Eisenstein and John Grierson that premiered together in the UK in 1929.
One of the most original video releases of recent years, The Soviet Influence: From Turksib to Night Mail showed the difference between something that has been intelligently curated as opposed to merely programmed. By placing the undeservedly forgotten Soviet drama-documentary Turksib alongside a number of British documentaries that came in its wake, it demonstrated strong stylistic and historical links between them that until then had been largely confined to film textbooks. The same is true of the sequel, which recreates the simultaneous British premieres of Sergei Eisenstein's incendiary (and then BBFC-rejected) Battleship Potemkin and John Grierson's pioneering documentary Drifters in a double bill on 10 November 1929.
A seemingly permanent fixture in critics' polls, Eisenstein's film needs little introduction. Originally planned as an epic titled The Year 1905, a rushed production schedule reduced the project's scope to covering a single incident, the mutiny on a Tsarist battleship that briefly seemed to herald something more revolutionary. One of the cinema's supreme masterpieces of visual composition and rhythmic editing, it's presented here with the famous score by Edmond Meisel which accompanied its 1926 Berlin premiere and which Eisenstein himself preferred.
If the work of North Sea herring fishermen, the subject of Drifters, seems sedate by comparison, it's nonetheless hard to miss Eisenstein's influence on the way that Grierson uses montage, often to draw explicit contrasts between the natural world and the increasing encroachment of heavy industry into one of mankind's oldest professions. It was mostly shot on authentic locations, but it includes some remarkable underwater sequences staged at the Plymouth Marine Biological Research Station.
The double bill influenced several 1930s documentaries, three examples of which are included here. Grierson's own Granton Trawler (1934), about a small fishing vessel, elaborated on the silent Drifters with its complex, commentary-free soundtrack. He was so satisfied with the end result that he used it as a teaching aid when training younger colleagues. Len Lye and Harry Watt responded with, respectively, the colourful, intensely rhythmic semi-abstract promotional film Trade Tattoo (1937) and the intensely dramatic North Sea (1938), which recreated the real-life rescue of an imperilled trawler.
Michael Brooke on 19th September 2012
Author of 145 reviews
In the 1920s and 30s, Soviet propaganda films profoundly influenced the emerging luminaries of British documentary filmmaking, shaping their ideas about film as an art form. This second in the BFI's 'Soviet Influence' series presents one of the classics of world cinema, Sergei Eisentein's 1929 Battleship Potemkin (in High Definition for the first time in the UK) and accompanies it with the world premiere High Definition release of John Grierson's ground-breaking 1929 documentary Drifters.
The London Film Society’s screening of Battleship Potemkin and Drifters on Sunday 10 November 1929, at the Tivoli cinema in the Strand, is perhaps the most celebrated double-bill in film history. The BBFC had banned Battleship Potemkin and did not officially classify it (and then with an ‘X’ certificate) until 1954, almost 30 years after it was made.
Drifters heralded the birth of a movement that dominated British film culture for decades. Commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board, the film followed a herring drifter from departure in Scotland to market in East Anglia. John Grierson had previously overseen an English language
version of Battleship Potemkin for its American release and Eisenstein’s influence is clearly shown, both in his own film and in many of those that followed under his watchful eye at the GPO Film Unit.
The restoration of Battleship Potemkin is presented with the 1926 Edmund Meisel score. For Drifters, the BFI commissioned the innovative British composer/performer Jason Singh. All of the sounds and textures in this evocative new score have been created vocally by Singh and manipulated using
effects, hardware samplers and software.
Length: 124 mins
Format: DVD+Blu-ray B&W
Released: 5th November 2012
Cat No: BFIB1058
- 2 discs
- All films presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
- Battleship Potemkin presented in a new restoration by Film Museum Berlin and partners, accompanied by the 1926 Edmund Meisel score
- Drifters presented in a new HD transfer, tinted and toned as originally intended, with a score by Jason Singh
- Bonus Films: Granton Trawler (Grierson, 1934), Trade Tattoo (Lye, 1937), North Sea (Watt, 1938)
- Illustrated booklet with extensive film and restoration credits and essays by Henry K Miller, Patrick Russell and Michael Brooke.